Kinect Accelerator: MentorStars help the companies and themselves

We are one third of the way through the Kinect Accelerator and the first month of mentor introductions and the companies have adjusted their business and technical strategies to line-up with the best opportunities.  Kinect development is challenging, so although it’s OK to fail-fast and learn from it, it’s even better to get pretty close on the first shot. 

This is the first Microsoft Accelerator we have run here at the Microsoft Westlake offices and it was not clear how engaged both the external mentors being brought in by TechStars and the Microsoft mentors would be.  We have been impressed by both.  The 11 Kinect Accelerator teams have been meeting daily with mentors.  Some of the actively engaged non-Microsoft mentors have been Adam Doppelt from Co-Founder UrbanSpoon has been active, David Cohen, CEO of TechStars (of course), Greg Gottesman from Madrona Venture Group, Andy Sack, Executive Director of TechStars Seattle, Kwindla Hultman Kramer, CEO of Oblong Industries ( the guys who designed those cool “Minority Report” scenarios) and the ever present and engaged Robert Kapela.   One mentor mentioned seeing this kind of innovation was like getting an adrenaline shot in the brain (that’s a good thing).

From the Microsoft side I have been truly impressed by how my peers have been engaged.  Dan’l Lewin, Corporate Vice President for the Microsoft Emerging Business Team reflected upon his own startup experiences and gave a compelling presentation that I’ll summarize as:

·         Know your customer, deeply.

·         Know yourself, as an entrepreneur, your strengths and especially your weaknesses.

·         Know your team, and get your team ready for some tough but rewarding work.

Many others across Microsoft have been visible on a weekly, even daily basis.  From leading game developers such as Jeff Matsushita and Rick Martinez, both Executive Producers at Microsoft Studios, Craig Eisler, General Manager for Kinect for Windows, Dennis Schmuland, Chief Healthcare Strategy Officer, many from the Kinect for Windows team, Steve Seow for Azure, as well as Sam Rosenbalm, Sr. Director for BizSpark and Microsoft Accelerator programs.  The Microsoft teams have been very engaged and responsive, helping connect Accelerator companies to customer prospects, transferring industry knowledge, providing best practices on Kinect development, responding to development tool issues, etc. 

Honestly, this first Microsoft Accelerator has been a bit of an experiment.  But the quality of the program has been consistent with the core TechStars programs.  The mentor intensive approach has driven the teams to mature quickly, refine their product vision, comprehend technical barriers and opportunities and allowed these 11 companies to do more faster.  Microsoft teams, even outside of the Kinect arena have been engaged.  For example, we needed more PC’s for the Accelerator teams for dev and test, the ask went out through multiple channels and loaner equipment started flowing in; monitors, workstations, keyboards, etc. 

Mentors, as they get engaged, learn as much from the companies and the process of support as the companies are learning from them.  Our MentorStars are learning and helping at the same time.